Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba were all part of a Chelsea side that lost 1-0 against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. Yet their despondency in defeat was erased less than 24 hours after the final whistle was blown as they found out that despite losing the battle of The Hawthorns they had, in the process, won a more important war.
Manager Andre Villas-Boas had been sacked by owner Roman Abramovich, who felt he had no option but to swing his axe and kill the reign of the manager, as he had done on six previous occasions. Except this time his hand had been forced not just by results on the pitch but more so by the players whose wages he pays. And those who were stupid enough to force the hand of one of the world’s richest men were about to be told exactly what would happen to them.
The Russian called a dressing room meeting and went ballistic, blaming the players for the departure of Villas-Boas, a manager who was held in such high regard by previous club Porto that Abramovich had to pay £13 million for him. The owner foretold there will be more Chelsea careers ended this summer, amongst the playing staff this time.
Abramovich didn’t want to sack the 34-year-old, someone he considered to be the most impressive young manager in Europe. The Portuguese arrived in Abramovich’s office at Stamford Bridge on June 22nd with a fantastic pedigree. Porto had just won a treble oozing class and style, playing majestic attacking football which lead to strike duo Falcao and Hulk scoring 74 goals between them. In comparison at Chelsea the next season Fernando Torres and Drogba have traipsed to just 11.
There is too much ‘dead wood’ at Stamford Bridge, which needs replacing imminently before Chelsea will win another Premier League title, or secure the elusive first Champions League trophy. They have six players in John Terry, Paolo Ferreira, Cole, Lampard, Drogba and Florent Malouda who are over 30 years old, and Petr Cech and Michael Essien are 29, turning 30 before the season is over. Those eight will need replacing eventually and Villas Boas had already proven himself reliable in the transfer market.
Juan Mata, Oriol Romeu, and Raul Meireles have been the better performers for the Blues this season and Gary Cahill, signed only in January, is a proven Premier League player who will improve with age. But the departure of AVB will mean a whole new rebuilding process will begin with a new manager who must be given time.
Fans and pundits alike will herald the sacking of Villas-Boas as the opportune moment for Jose Mourinho to return to Stamford Bridge. Indeed, he does seem likely to leave Real Madrid at the end of the season, but why on earth would he want to go back to Chelsea?
There is a very real possibility of no Champions League football next season and with the inexperienced and egotistical Roberto Di Matteo handed the reins until the end of the season, even the Europa League is less than assured.
Furthermore, any new manager will still have to ease out players such as Lampard, Terry, Drogba and Cole – players who Mourinho moulded into club legends.
That, along with fact that the current Real Madrid man still has a frosty relationship with Roman Abramovich, could be enough to see him turn elsewhere. That manager will have to help £50 million striker Fernando Torres remember where the goal is, Torres has managed only five Premier League goals since his move on January 2011 transfer deadline day.
The luckless Spaniard’s confidence is destroyed. He looks a shadow of the player who scored 81 goals in 126 appearances for Liverpool – and even in his final season at Anfield, under the guidance of Roy Hodgson and for a few games Kenny Dalglish, he was struggling.
In fact, the last manager to get the best out of Torres was a certain Rafael Benitez who, at 2-1, is the bookmaker’s favourite to replace Villas-Boas. But it remains to be seen who will be the next man trusted with the poisoned chalice of leading Chelsea to glory by Abramovich.